Thursday 9 January 2014

January Council meeting

(Update 12th January; at end of post)

Yesterday's meeting has now been archived for you to view at your leisure, so I only need to provide some commentary...

Over an hour was taken up with a presentation from the ladies from the Care and Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) and their triangulations, collaborations and their robust annual reporting frameworks.

The gist of the whole thing was that some parts of social care services were ok and some weren't. The dreaded words 'worst in Wales' cropped up a couple of times, for example initial assessment procedures for vulnerable children were slow and there were and delays over 'safeguarding' investigations in adult services. The report itself is online, if you're so inclined.

Meryl Gravell and Kevin Madge took the opportunity for a bit of PR waffle in that the report justified the council's 'visions' for the future of our vulnerable residents, including, of course, the highly contentious issue of the closure of council run care homes. I am not sure the report did any such thing.

What emerged was that most of the social care services were privately run anyway and, according to budget proposals further outsourcing was likely.

Exec Board Member for Social Care Jane Tremlett, recently attended a conference on the 'Delivering Sustainable Services for Older People in Wales' run by none other than Capita Plc, (that large outsourcing company now dominating Barnet Council services), who happen, enterprisingly and conveniently, to have its own event company called Capita Conferences Plc.

Anyway, I'm digressing, the next point of interest was the proposal that all  decisions concerning school re-organisation should be delegated to the Executive Board (EB), and all small school closure to be delegated to senior officers.

Procedural chaos and a split in the Labour group ensued. Cllr Caiach and Plaid members all made it very clear that these decisions should be made by full council, school closures affected the heart of our communities and the electorate had the right for their views and opinions to be fully represented by local members in the Chamber.

(This doesn't apply to Llandovery of course where the local members decided to remain silent over the closure of Pantycelyn secondary school, so no local representation there).

Cllr Darren Price (Plaid) said;
"When I read this report, 'disappointed' was one word, 'surprised' I wasn't, because unfortunately the general thrust within this report ties in with the direction of travel that I've seen since being elected to this council in 2012. The default position seems to be that if you can refer it to a small body of individuals to make a decision quickly and quietly then, let's do it. personally that goes against the grain as someone who is a firm believer in democratic values and freedom of speech"

The proposal was further evidence of the dictatorial nature of this council and nothing short of a deliberate avoidance of objections and opposition.

After further comments from the opposition, Labour Cllr Anthony Jones broke ranks and moved that the proposal should be referred back to the relevant Scrutiny Committee.

Kevin Madge heartily disagreed with his Labour colleague, the decision should be made there and then - they didn't have the money to squander on unviable schools and associated nonsense..They had, after all, 'extensive experience' in these matters.

When Cllr Peter Hughes Griffiths (Plaid) asked for evidence of this 'extensive experience' he was told off for making personal attacks...

Cllr Price proposed that the status quo should remain and such decisions remain with full council. There was then a recorded vote on his proposal which was lost. The count was 31 votes to 30 with one abstention.

Then there had to be another vote on Cllr Jones' proposal should go back to scrutiny, this was passed (39 to 21 with one abstention). So back to scrutiny it will go. I don't suppose Cllr Madge was very impressed at having to withdraw his motion because of the antics of his Labour colleagues. Incidentally, both votes were recorded.

You can view the chaotic muddle on the webcast.

The subject of whether the council should have a Presiding Officer rather than a Chair was up next and Cllr Caiach pointed out that it might perhaps be a good idea.

The current arrangement, which dates back a thousand years or so, was an annual rotation of Labour, Independent, Plaid Chairs with no hustings, no election and of course no chance of any truly independent members ever being Chair of the Council.

If adopted (and the Business Management Group had already decided it wasn't going to be), the Chair would continue with purely ceremonial duties but a Presiding Member, elected on actual ability, would Chair council meetings.

Cllr Caiach suggested that any additional cost could be funded by a redistribution of the Special Responsibility Allowances currently allocated to existing Chairs.

She might as well have sworn loudly in the Chamber.

The Chief Executive soothed the assembled and now deeply troubled Chairs by saying that SRA's were set in stone, couldn't possibly be reduced and the idea was quietly shelved. A pity really, I seem to remember the current Vice Chair (who will automatically become Chair in May, with an extra £9000 and the 'car') was nominated largely on the strength of his shooting abilities.

Lastly was the thorny issue of the EB minutes from December 4th. You may remember this was the exempt meeting where the pension scandal was discussed. There was a climbdown over the 'arrangements' but the EB insisted that 'at this stage' it was not 'intrinsically' unlawful.

To see yesterday's discussion click on 02:33:14 on the webcast. Kevin Madge said that he couldn't say anything and Mr James said that although he had been advised that didn't have to declare an interest now, he would leave the Chamber for the duration of today's non-discussion.

Cllr Price wanted to know, as we all do, exactly what 'intrinsically' meant in this context and what did 'at this stage' mean when they seemed so confident of their ongoing legal advice.

Kevin was saying nothing and left it to the head of law to remind everyone of the instructions from the WAO not to discuss it all in public before the investigation was concluded.

Incidentally, the annual accounts for the Dyfed Pension Fund cannot be finally approved either due to the pension scandal.

The vow of silence didn't seem to stop Kevin Madge talking about the libel case on Monday despite the unlawful libel indemnity but he was in the Exec Board arena of course, safe from probing questions.

The last point was the recommendation by the Democratic Services Committee that there should be no reduction in the frequency of council and committee meetings.

Bizarrely, our acting head of law said that this recommendation did not require a decision, they were going to have a seminar on meetings and procedures soon anyway.

So this sensible recommendation to protect the remnants of democracy was neatly swept aside with another curious interpretation of the constitution. Councillors can look forward to a meeting about meetings.

By now the clock was ticking and there was no time to discuss the remaining agenda and the rest of it was zipped through in approximately 30 seconds. This was a shame as some of us were wondering about the reasons for the delay on the report on 'email snooping' which formed part of the minutes of a recent scrutiny committee. We'll just have to wait...

Well, next month, council meetings are buy one get one free with two on the horizon, the usual gathering on the 12th February and the Budget Special, which should be a riot, on the 19th.

As you will be aware, the ruling officers administration have already put forward their budget proposals for 'consultation'. For your information, budget discussions from three scrutiny committees have been published so far: social care, environment and community.

The Plaid opposition published their alternative budget yesterday;

Update 12th January; 
I mentioned above that Exec board member for Social Care, Cllr Jane Tremlett attended and spoke at a conference put on by Capita Conferences Ltd, a useful subsidiary (with all prospective clientele gathered in one handy room) of those well known outsourcers of council services, Capita Plc. It's worth noting that the delegate pack alone costs £95 plus vat. Attending the conference? £350 plus vat. She's off to another one in March this year. As a speaker perhaps her fees and expenses are paid by Capita itself...if so, she might as well join the Capita payroll...


Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

I can only seem to be able to open the archived meeting with stilted English translator's feed. The Welsh option doesn't do anything.

caebrwyn said...

@Emlyn Uwch Cych
According to an announcement on the council website, the Welsh version wasn't working yesterday, so there's no Welsh archive either.